The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Sept. 11. What music would you listen to, to commemorate the terrorist attacks on that day | September 11, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

The news today will be filled with Hurricane Irma, Hurricane José and Hurricane Harvey as well as the wildfires raging out west.

But today is also Sept. 11, 2017.

That makes today the 16th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in the Twin Towers in New York City (below top); the Pentagon in Virginia, close to Washington, D.C. (below middle); and that thwarted hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers forced to crash in a field in Pennsylvania (below bottom)  before it could reach the Capitol or White House.

During the September 11 attacks, 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 others wounded. These immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes (including the 19 terrorists), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon.

A lot of music could be played to mark the occasion.

At bottom, in a YouTube video, is “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a piece by the American composer John Adams that was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic specifically to mark the event. It ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize.

It uses both an orchestra and a chorus, and it incorporates voices and sounds, actual recordings and tapes, from the events of that day. It all makes for a moving tribute.

But other music, in smaller forms and in many other styles,  would also be appropriate.

What piece would you suggest?


  1. I always think of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. My older daughter was a freshman at the UW in Fall, 2001, and played in the UW String Orchestra. There are 2 separate groups, but for this piece, Janet Jenson had them both play, so the extra musicians were in the aisles and balcony, so we were surrounded by the beautiful music. It was very moving.

    Comment by Genie Ogden — September 12, 2017 @ 1:25 am

  2. The first time I ever heard the fifth movement of Michael Nyman’s Hillsborough Memorial, I had tuned in to BBC3 a few minutes into the piece, so didn’t know what it was. By the end, I had tears rolling down my face and I didn’t even know what it had been composed as a memorial to. I just knew it was bloody sad.

    Parts of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover were “choreographed around it”, according to whomever wrote the Wikipedia entry.

    Comment by Catherine Arnott Smith — September 11, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

  3. I like your suggestion.

    Also: 1) Alan Hovhaness Prayer of St. Gregory.

    It is short and there are many versions of it but I like this one with Wynton Marsalis on Trumpet.

    2) Vaughan Williams, Toward the Unknown Region (which seems where we are headed).

    Comment by fflambeau — September 11, 2017 @ 3:16 am

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